By J. Jeffrey Spahn, founder and president Leading Leaders Inc.
It's your first appointment of the day, smoothness pervades as you shift the conversation to the point of the meeting: moving a portion of this financial advisor's portfolio into a fund of the company you represent.
As you broach this subject with confident expectations you hear the advisor say, "I am not so sure we are ready to move forward, I need to understand more about the fund and how it's managed in comparison with similar funds out there."
The smoothness disappears and you react with noticeable frustration and fear as you begin to pour out canned facts from your company's marketing material. The diatribe ends as you glance up and notice the look on the advisor's face. It's a puzzled look that expresses doubt about your company, and worse - about you. Leaving the office you sense that in the last five minutes you've wasted three months of relationship and trust building. Sitting in your car you ask yourself what just happened?
Of course on one level you know what happened. Your client presented you with an objection, you panicked and lost their business. Yet, investigating the surface of this interaction won't give you the full story. Below the surface a whole set of emotions and reactions occurred within you. Becoming aware of these emotions and working with these emotions is the key to changing how you deal with an objection in the future. To work with these emotions is to first realize that the emotional flood we sometimes experience in response to opposition is natural and often unpreventable. Because we can't prevent these emotions, learning to channel this energy into clarity of intentions and calm authenticity is the best option. With clarity and a genuine approach we naturally cultivate trust and long term relationships while still accomplishing the ultimate goal - closing the deal.
How does one channel this energy and cultivate authenticity in the face of an objection? It starts with acceptance and awareness.
Accepting Objections as Opportunities
When a client presents you with an objection they are taking the first authentic step in building more understanding and trust. Initially it's hard to accept this idea because by virtue of a client objecting, they stand in opposition to our intentions. Yet, if we look more precisely into what oppositions can be, we may arrive at a point of acceptance.
What opposing energies confronting each other can be is a formula for creation. For example, good leaders are said to hold onto two opposing viewpoints at the same time and by weighing opposing sides they develop a new course of action - opposing energies creating a new idea. More fundamentally, when two creatures of opposite sex come together in a special way life is created. Lastly, the miracle of flight requires the turbulent interaction of two opposing energies, drag and it's opposite thrust to occur at the same time.
In sales your opposing energy to create with is an objection. Realize and trust this principle. When your client expresses an objection it is a gift, they are giving you an opposing energy to create with. React with acceptance, endure the turbulence of opposition and eventually something new will be created.
Even if we trust the creative principle behind opposing energies, accepting an objection as an opportunity requires some internal work. Truly accepting happens only when we become aware of our own inner dialogue and emotion around objections. Without awareness our emotions can hijack us forcing a reaction that lacks clarity or care for the client.
These hijackings manifest in several different forms. Our raw, crude, thoughts and emotions might drive us to project anger while pouring out irrelevant facts and statements or, alternatively force us to freeze and stumble. To combat our reactionary state we must be aware of our emotions, then work to channel this energy into clarity.
To be aware is to acknowledge the feelings and emotions that arise when you hear an objection. Ask yourself what you are feeling in the moment and be honest with yourself. Are you experiencing fear of losing the deal, anger with the client for going back on a commitment, frustration with expectations not being met? By virtue of acknowledging strong feelings like fear, anger, frustration the heat of these emotions will cool, their power over us will loosen.
As the emotional heat subsides the energy of the emotion still exists and can be controlled and channeled into clear intentions. Using this energy means asking ourselves what outcomes we seek given the circumstances. For instance, if you noticed fear around losing the deal, you might choose to understand what changed in your client's commitment level. If you experienced frustration when your client mentioned they needed more time to think about your proposal, you might want to hear more about what your client needs to understand before moving forward. Defining these intentions allows you to constructively move the conversation towards clarity on both sides of the table.
As a result of this internal work, you are now prepared to choose and discern how to proceed. The next step is entirely dictated by the situation and choices you've made, but always involves some kind of dialogue.
Active Listening and Asking Genuine Questions
Should you choose to want to know more about what the client needs to understand before moving forward, active listening and the asking of genuine questions must develop.
Active listening requires the salesperson to reflect back to the client what they heard them say. For example, "Mrs. Client what I heard you say is that you no longer want to move forward with the transaction we talked about last week. You want to understand more about how the fund is managed. Is that correct?"
Upon posing this type of question we wait for the client to respond. Sometimes they might hear the reflection and realize they've misrepresented themselves, or as salespeople we might have misheard the client Any responses will require more acceptance, awareness, active listening and reflecting back. For the purpose of this example, assume the client answers with a simple yes.
At this point we can move from the clarity of intentions defined earlier while practicing awareness. This is accomplished by asking a genuine question to gain the understanding you seek. The question might be: "Can you tell me Mrs Client, what about the fund is making you hesitate, what would you like to have more understanding about?"
Here we wait for the client to clearly state what it is they want to know more about. Continue to practice active listening by reflecting back and asking genuine questions to narrow down your client's needs. Once the client's needs are clear use your knowledge to make suggestions about how their needs can be met. It is important to realize here that no longterm trust is established if we attempt to fit our client's square needs into a round solution, be honest about your capabilities.
Practice and Approach
The key to approaching your clients with more authenticity is practicing awareness of your emotions. In sports, solid performance is a result of daily practice, along with preparation before the game. Developing your awareness muscle takes a similar dedication. First, commit time each day to practicing awareness, and likewise before meetings build five minutes into your preparation for warming up your awareness. We all have mechanisms for getting focused, clear and aware, if you know what your method is keep up with it. If you don't know what method suits you, try different techniques that work for others until you find one that works for you. Some people close their eyes and follow their breath to get present and focused. Others take a quiet walk. Putting golf balls or doing some other kind of repetitive action can work too. Second, practice identifying your emotions by writing down what you are experiencing before and after each meeting you conduct. The more you practice acknowledging emotions, the better and faster you can identify and diffuse them when with a client.
As with any method results take time to develop and this is not a panacea for all tough sales situations. Some clients may not give you the time and space to clarify your intentions or ask questions. Commit to the practice, be patient and real with yourself about results and eventually you will notice more trust, loyalty and sales from your clients.
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copyright @ LeadingLeadersInc. 6/2011